SAN FRANCISCO -- When Walker Buehler left his start on Friday night with right elbow discomfort, the Dodgers didn’t want to speculate, but they knew they were going to be without the right-hander for a significant amount of time.
On Saturday, Buehler traveled back to Los Angeles and underwent an MRI that revealed a flexor strain in his right forearm, according to manager Dave Roberts. The good news for the Dodgers is that Buehler, who was placed on the 15-day injured list on Saturday, won’t need surgery to repair the damage.
But given that he will then have to go through a full buildup after getting cleared to pick up a ball, the Dodgers are preparing to be without Buehler for at least three months.
“When you lose one of the best pitchers in the game, it’s a big blow to anybody, especially us,” said Dodgers first baseman Freddie Freeman, who homered in the ninth for the game's final margin. “Luckily we got Clayton [Kershaw] back [on Saturday] because having both of them out would’ve been a huge blow. Clayton looked pretty good, but losing Walker is going to be tough.”
Getting Kershaw back on the mound after a month-long absence was the only positive for the Dodgers on Saturday. The future Hall of Famer allowed two runs and struck out four over four innings in the Dodgers’ 3-2 loss to the Giants at Oracle Park. He threw 71 pitches.
“I would have liked to get through five with the pitch count that I had, but I had that long inning there in the second that made it tough,” Kershaw said. “Overall I felt great, good to be back out there.”
While Kershaw made his return, the Dodgers’ offense continued the inconsistencies it has displayed over the last few weeks. The Dodgers left 14 runners on base and went 2-for-10 with runners in scoring position. In the seventh, the Dodgers had bases loaded with nobody out with Freeman and Trea Turner due up.
Freeman struck out swinging on a ball he admitted he shouldn’t have swung at. Turner then grounded into an inning-ending double play on the first pitch he saw from Giants left-hander Jarlín García. In the eighth, the Dodgers loaded the bases again, this time with one out. But Gavin Lux and Mookie Betts struck out swinging against closer Camilo Doval.
It was the third time during the six-game road trip that the Dodgers were held to two runs or fewer. They are 4-6 through 10 games in June.
“We just didn’t finish innings and we kept those guys in the game and they ended up scratching one out,” Roberts said. “This is one that I expect our guys to look back at and know that we gave it away.”
Despite getting Kershaw back, it was overall another frustrating day for the Dodgers. The return of Kershaw helped soften the blow of losing Buehler, but the Dodgers were anticipating riding the backs of their aces all summer.
With Buehler on the shelf, the Dodgers will need Kershaw, Julio Urías, Tony Gonsolin and Tyler Anderson to continue to step up. Andrew Heaney has a rehab start Tuesday. If that goes well, he could give the Dodgers’ rotation another boost by returning on June 19. Replacing Buehler, however, will be nearly impossible.
“No matter if Heaney and I are back or not, it’s tough to lose Walker for any amount of time. He’s a stud,” Kershaw said. “He’s pitched some huge innings in huge games for us and he’s been pretty consistent going out there every fifth day. So all of us are going to have to step up for however long he is out and do our best.”
How the Dodgers withstand the loss of Buehler will be critical for the team’s championship aspirations. Their lead atop the National League West has shrunk in a blink with the surging Padres breathing down their necks and the Giants making up ground this weekend.
The Dodgers always knew how important it was to get Buehler back on track after he struggled to begin his season. Buehler was their best pitcher in 2021. Now, the Dodgers are just hoping to have the All-Star right-hander back in time for the stretch run.
“We’re certainly better with Walker,” Roberts said. “But that’s not going to be for quite some time.”